This is how you could help uncover Sheffield’s hidden rivers

Members of the public are being asked to play their part in uncovering Sheffield’s hidden rivers.

Wednesday, 1st May 2019, 11:34 am
Updated Tuesday, 14th May 2019, 5:19 pm

A new trust aims to open up the waterways which run through the city centre but have for many years lain buried beneath streets trodden by thousands of people each day.

The Sheaf and Porter Rivers Trust’s founders are trying to recruit as many members as possible as they seek to harness the people power needed to make that happen.

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How the Matilda Street site looked before

As an added incentive to sign up, members have been promised first dibs on future ‘urban caving’ events, giving them the chance to explore the network of rivers flowing below the city, after tours run as part of the recent Sheffield Adventure Film Festival proved such a hit.

The trust will be launched at the Showroom Cinema on Wednesday, May 15, when a screening of Lost Rivers, an award-winning documentary charting the world-wide movement to uncover and restore urban waterways, will be followed by a presentation and the opportunity to join and get involved.

As well as uncovering sections of previously hidden river, the trust is keen to give those which are already on view some much-needed TLC, opening them up to more visitors and encouraging wildlife to flourish in the water and along its banks.

How a new park beside a currently hidden stretch of the River Sheaf in Castlegate, within Sheffield city centre, could look (pic: Sheffield City Council)

Its biggest goal is to ensure long-standing plans to reveal the River Sheaf in Castlegate, where the old Castle Market stood, and create a public park called Sheaf Field are realised.

The trust does not want this opportunity to be missed to open up a near 100-metre stretch which has been culverted and make a feature of what it calls the ‘magnificent’ Megatron, which is the name given to the cavernous Victorian storm drain running beneath the city.

Simon Ogden, the trust’s acting chairman, said: “The opportunities are there along the Sheaf and Porter to reclaim those two most abused rivers but experience shows that if there’s not a champion for those opportunities they can be missed.

Urban caving in the culverted rivers beneath Sheffield city centre (pic: Robin Heath)

“We think we’re cutting with the grain, thanks to the support from Sheffield Council and the Environment Agency for what we’re trying to achieve, but it’s important there’s a consistent voice.

“Sheffield’s history is intimately related to its rivers. They’re the reason Sheffield is where it is and they gave the city its name, which means field by the River Sheaf.

“They powered the early industrial revolution and shaped Sheffield’s valleys, and this is about bringing out the heritage and character which has been lost in the city centre.

“We’re trying to take the character of the rivers which are so loved on the west side of the city, where thousands of people enjoy walking along the Rivelin Valley, and bring it into the city centre, as you’re already starting to see happen in Kelham Island.

Simon Ogden, acting chairman of The Sheaf and Porter Rivers Trust

“The success of the sell-out urban caving tours underneath the station shows the huge public interest, and we want to capitalise on that to make these rivers more of a feature in the city.”

The trust already has an organising group of about 30 people, ranging from engineers to activists and artists, and its founders believe there is strong public backing for what it hopes to achieve.

But with public funding so limited for projects like the proposed riverside park in Castlegate, it believes it can work with other groups to secure the money which is needed and provide an army of volunteers to maintain and improve the city’s waterways.

Earlier this year, a salmon was found in the River Don in Sheffield where the species had not been seen for 150 years, and the new trust aims to continue the renaissance of the city’s once heavily polluted waterways.

With the city centre’s population growing rapidly, the trust’s founders also believe there is a need for more spots where people can relax outdoors and enjoy the environment, while getting some exercise in the form of walking, running or even kayaking.

Another driving factor is the need to bolster the city’s defences against the effects of climate change, be that the higher risk of flooding or of severe water shortages.

Urban caving in the culverted rivers beneath Sheffield city centre (pic: Robin Heath)

Opening up Sheffield’s rivers, the trust's founders say, will make them easier to maintain, meaning the city is more resilient when it comes to extreme weather.

The trust aims to ensure the proposed transformation of Sheffield Midland railway station, as part of HS2, maximises any opportunities to improve the Sheaf or Porter Brook, which run beneath the station.

Another site on its radar is the Porter Brook around Sylvester Street, near the Decathlon store where the dramatic collapse of part of the car park in 2017 revealed a previously culverted section of the river.

The trust’s vision is not constrained by the ring road, with plans in place to tidy up the River Sheaf beside Broadfield Road and Cutler’s Walk, near Heeley, where it is already accessible but needs some attention.

The Porter Brook Pocket Park beside the NCP car park off Matilda Street is an example of what can be achieved, says Mr Ogden.

This was transformed from an urban wasteland into a pretty spot where people can relax among the greenery on the brook’s west bank.

The Sheaf and Porter Rivers Trust’s launch event will take place at the Showroom Cinema from 6.30pm-8.45pm.

For more information about the trust, and how you can get involved, visit sheafportertrust.org.

The pocket park created beside the Porter Brook at Matilda Street in Sheffield city centre (pic: Sheffield City Council)
Urban caving in the culverted rivers beneath Sheffield city centre (pic: Robin Heath)